Amy Haimerl’s Detroit Hustle – A Memoir of Love, Life & Home is a conflicted book. Haimerl, a journalist who was covering Detroit for Crain’s Detroit Business during Detroit’s protracted bankruptcy, and her husband end up in Detroit. They can’t afford Brooklyn and are oddly taken by the challenge of Detroit. With more guts than common sense, they pay cash for a crumbling house lacking water, power and windows, among other things.
Their aim to support a critically ill city is admirable, but they land in a mass of contradictions. For lots of reasons, buying and rehabbing houses in Detroit, at least at the time of Haimerl’s book, seems impossible for Detroit’s poor residents. As outsiders, with access to cash, Haimerl and her husband can afford to buy a formerly gracious house and fix it up right. They recognize that they are putting more into the house than they are ever likely to recoup, but they fall in love with the process, and are determined to do the job “right,” which in their case means hiring contractors and spending a fortune. On top of all the economic woes, Detroit has an historical commission, so the financial outlay is just crippling. Haimerl and her husband end up with a beautifully restored home in a neighborhood that is increasingly gentrified, and thus increasingly unaffordable for the poor.
The book is well written and keeps your interest, even if you have absolutely no interest in inserting yourself into a local bar scene or living in a construction site for years while confronting major panic about your ability to pay for it. The challenge, as Haimerl recognizes it, is that she and her husband are part of a movement that will make Detroit more beautiful and probably more economically sound, but it is sort of a yuppie fantasy. No matter how much they try to patronize local establishments that predate their arrival, Haimerl and her husband are inevitably part of a recovery that will mostly benefit the middle and upper classes, with the poor being left behind. In the end, this is a bittersweet book that raises lots of questions, but I have to admire the effort Haimerl and her husband make to do the right thing and to be sensitive to some of the less positive effects of their settling in Detroit.